Looking High and Low
Two statements may sometimes appear side by side in the Talmud even though the only thing connecting them is that they have the same author. This seems to be the case of one statement quoting Rabbi Tanchum regarding how high a Chanukah lamp may be placed above street level and another citing his interpretation of a passage in Chumash (Bereishis 37:24) about the pit into which Yosef's brothers cast him.
A closer look at this second statement may, however, suggest a subtle link between the subjects of both statements. "The pit was empty, with no water in it," says the Torah, and Rabbi Tanchum asks why it is necessary to repeat that there was no water in it if we have already been informed that it was empty. His conclusion is that the Torah wishes to stress that the pit was empty only of water but that it was inhabited by snakes and scorpions which miraculously did not harm the righteous Yosef.
"Were his brothers aware of the presence of these deadly creatures?" asks Rambam. If so, they certainly would have been so impressed with this Heavenly sign of Yosef's righteousness that they would have ceased conspiring against him. His conclusion is that because the brothers were so high above the bottom of the pit where these creatures crept they did not notice them.
Now, suggests one of the commentaries, we may see a link between Rabbi Tanchum's two statements. The Chanukah lamp, which is supposed to publicize the Chanukah miracle, cannot be noticed by those walking below if it is more than 20 cubits high. Yosef's brothers, on the other hand, could not notice the dangerous creatures at the bottom of the pit because it was too far below them.